Updated: Mar 13, 2019

Comrades winners:Bruce Fordyce, Ellie Greenwood, Ludwick Mamabola, Bongmusa Mthembu and Nick Bester.

Sometimes you bump into people in the oddest of places. Last Sunday I was standing in the queue for the loo at a garage shortly before the start of the Sarens marathon when I felt a tap on my shoulder. There was no mistaking the beaming smile looking at me. It was Ludwick Modibe Mamabolo. The always smiling, always positive Ludwick is most famous in South Africa for his win in the 2012 Comrades marathon, as well as 6 top-ten finishes and 3 second places. Nothing appears to deflate Ludwick’s enthusiasm. He was still smiling and cracking jokes when, in his one disappointing Comrades Marathon, he was forced to abandon the 2015 race.

Clearly, he felt the queue at the garage was no place to stop joking and he teased me loudly to the general mirth of the others in the queue. ”Hey everyone, did you know that Bruce’s best Comrades time is one second slower than mine?”

I’m afraid it’s true. Ludwick ran 5:24:05 last year and I ran 5:24:06 in 1986. Before I could reply that at least I won my race in 1986, whereas Ludwick finished second, he was posing for selfies with other runners and dishing out training tips.

Someone asked him what time he was hoping to run that morning in the Sarens marathon. “No, this is just a training run for me, “ he replied. “A nice long, slow run.”

Someone else remarked, “And these long runs are the best for preparing you for your big race, aren’t they Ludwick?”

And then came a pearl of wisdom from the runner who could well win his second Comrades this year. “No, the best, and the most important, training run is the one you dislike the most.”

I immediately had goose bumps, and not just from the predawn chill. I knew exactly what he meant. We all have sessions we hate, the ones we try to avoid, and the ones that make us nervous just thinking about them. They are inevitably the sessions that have the greatest benefits and help us reach that next level of excellence.

Speedwork sessions on the track were the ones I loathed the most. In fact, I found all quality sessions very tough, both mentally and physically. But there was something about the track that filled me with nervous fear; the white lane lines curling around on the grass or tartan, the sight of runners donning spikes, the stopwatches clicking. All these warned me of the pain ahead. So much so that, these days, I cannot contemplate running another track training session in my life.

But they worked. Oh yes, those timed track sessions - the ones I hated the most - transformed me from a good Comrades silver medallist to a gold medallist almost instantly. A thousand metres run 4 or 5 times was my key session. A warm up jog, some strides and then I was ready to sprint around the track for 2½ laps, averaging 2 minutes 50 – 55 seconds. I would walk 200 metres to recover, and then surge again.

I know most Comrades runners would feel the same as I did in the eighties. Ultra-runners aren’t afraid to run 40, 50, 60 kilometre training runs, but a short-distance race or searing track session? No thank you! Of course, we need the long runs and I discussed that (LSD) in my last column, but the greatest breakthroughs come from quality work.

Quality sessions don’t have to be run on the track. Not everyone can find a track, and track work can be boring, at the best of times, and boring and painful, at the worst. It is more fun and less boring to run hill sessions with friends or short-distance time trials and races with club mates. Whatever you do, the key to success is to run them honestly and hard. Unfortunately, they have to hurt a bit. If you finish a session gasping for air and with your hands on your knees it means it was a productive session.

And now is the time. As we head towards the month of April, it’s a good time to knuckle down and start some quality work. It doesn’t have to be brutal. Ease into it gently and gradually increase the intensity, but make sure these sessions become regular weekly commitments. The results can be very exciting. That elusive P.B. or medal may well become a reality. I know quality training paid dividends for me when I won my first up run Comrades 36 years ago.

Now I just need to catch Ludwick in another loo queue and ask him about his best Comrades up run time. I believe my time may be slightly faster than his... certainly by more than one second!

With thanks to Citizen newspaper, South Africa.





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